Police probe if source was celebratory holiday gunfire

Shocked doctors find bullet lodged in brain of ‘sleepy’ 9-year-old, remove it

After East Jerusalem parents say they don’t know what’s hurting son, Hadassah doctors stunned to find he’d been shot; neurosurgeon, paged on way to Shabbat dinner, pulls bullet out

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

An x-ray image of a bullet lodged in the brain of  9-year-old boy at Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem on July 31, 2020 (courtesy of Hadassah University Hospital)
An x-ray image of a bullet lodged in the brain of 9-year-old boy at Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem on July 31, 2020 (courtesy of Hadassah University Hospital)

A nine-year-old boy from East Jerusalem is recovering after doctors at Hadassah Medical Center removed a bullet that hit him in the head, passed through his brain, ground to a halt upon reaching the inside of his skull and then migrated back into his brain.

The parents, residents the Palestinian neighborhood of Ras al-Amud, brought in their conscious but sleepy son, who only had a tiny wound on his head and a bit of blood on his hair. Doctors were staggered when the bullet showed up in a scan.

Neurosurgeon Guy Elor told The Times of Israel he was “amazed” that even though the bullet went through “very important brain structures,” the boy was chatting and recovering, and was expected to have minimal brain damage or none at all.

Police have opened an investigation and are probing, among other lines of inquiry, the possibility that the bullet came from celebratory gunfire for the Muslim Eid el-Adha festival that was observed this weekend, Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told The Times of Israel.

The incident comes two months after a four-year-old girl from Issawiya, which is close to Ras al-Amud, was killed by an apparently stray bullet fired by an unknown shooter.

The bullet removed from the brain of 9-year-old boy at Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem on July 31, 2020 (courtesy of Hadassah University Hospital)

The boy, an Arab citizen of Israel, was taken to Hadassah University Hospital in the Ein Kerem neighborhood on Friday night by his parents, who gave a vague report. He is currently in recovery.

“It was pretty strange,” Elor said. “Nobody at the hospital had a clue that he had been shot by a gun. It was a nine-year-old who was a bit sleepy. The mother reported that he was playing with his friends and something happened, maybe something fell on him. The story really wasn’t clear, but there was no suggestion that he was shot. He had just a tiny wound on the top of his head.”

Neurosurgeon Guy Elor of Hadassah University Hospital in Ein Kerem, in Jerusalem (courtesy of Hadassah University Hospital)

When the boy was sent for a CT scan, staff saw a bullet lodged in his head. Elor, the on-call neurosurgeon, was on his way home to eat Shabbat dinner with his family. Hospital residents phoned him, and told him to pull over to the side of the road and look at imaging. “The scan showed that the bullet went into the head from the right side, went through the brain, and was stopped by the back side of the skull,” Elor said.

He drove straight back to the hospital, and two hours after the boy’s arrival, surgery was underway.

He decided to operate immediately, and was confident that he would find the bullet outside the brain, near the skull.

“After stabilizing the boy, we took him to the operating room and tried to locate the bullet where we saw it on the CT,” he said. “To our surprise it wasn’t there. We had to use some high-tech tools while the patient’s head was open to see where the bullet had disappeared to, and we found it had migrated back to the left side of the brain.”

He removed it successfully, and said that careful work by the anesthesiologist prevented the brain from swelling. Elor said the child was “very lucky,” commenting: “Had the bullet gone in at another angle it would have caused much more damage to the brain and left significant neurological damage.”

He added: “Today [Sunday] the patient is in an extremely good condition — awake and communicating with us. We’re surprised and happy. His brain seems to be recovering remarkably.”

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